I recently had the opportunity to perform in a play. Now, let me say that I am also the co-director of this play. My friend and I have co-directed many plays over the last several years, but this is the first time I’ve acted in one.
Directing and acting are two different animals. As a director, I often helped actors and actresses visualize their characters–what they would wear, how they would deliver their lines, body language, reactions to other characters, etc. That wasn’t the hard part for me. Remembering my entrances was quite another matter. I have a new appreciation for the art of ‘waiting in the wings’ and will undoubtedly be a better director as a result of this experience.
Back to character. Developing a visual character isn’t that much different than developing a written character. As I write about a certain character, I must know more about them than just their name and physical stats. I have to know how they will react to information and other characters, how they will position themselves in a room or within a group, how they will stand or sit, what they think about, what they wear, what excites or bothers them, what are their goals. All of this information needs to add to the story. Not all of it needs to be IN the story, but I need to know it as a writer in order to portray the character correctly and properly place them in scenes and interactions.
Sometimes as I write characters introduce themselves to me. They weren’t in the original plan. They just appear. At times these develop into really interesting people that I want to work with more. This happened in my current work in progress (WIP). I have an entirely new story that runs parallel to my current one that I plan to develop once I finish the WIP because of one character who just walked into the story.
As a writer, I try to observe people in all situations. I make notes when I see interesting reactions, expressions or personalities. I never know which one will inspire that next character I need. I try to especially watch those people who are not like me. I have no trouble writing about a character who shares my motivations and upbringing, but it can be quite a challenge to write about someone who has opposite values and/or background.
I try not to stereotype too much. Though this technique can be quite useful for two-dimensional or limited characters as the stereotypes aid reader understanding of minor characters and eliminate the need to over describe.
It’s important to have a good mix of characters with opposing personalities and goals. With the right characters, conflict and drama happen organically. And, after all, there is no story without conflict. My stories always have at least one animal character. That’s my signature across the genres I write. You may have another type of character that always seems to make their way into your stories. That’s okay as long as you don’t always put them in the same situations with the same choices.
Enjoy and have fun with your characters. Laugh, cry, share their emotions. It will only make them more realistic. And always be sure to take them on an adventure.
Tell me about your characters. How do you create them? What makes them fun or interesting? Do you keep notes on potential characters? Comment below and let’s compare. Maybe you have a method I haven’t tried.